Seeking a dark shady hole to spend the night? Then Cherry Creek canyon is choice for a quick overnighter near Frazier Park and the I-5 Tejon Pass. Steep dirt road access will challenge even the biggest skeptic.
4WD only access
The 4×4 Camp (signed) turn off is along Cuddy Valley Road, on the north side of the pavement – just a few miles west of Frazier Park, inside Los Padres National Forest.
Oak trees and brush clog the dense hillsides. Owls live in this canyon. Deer and wildlife sightings are common – which makes this an ideal hunters camp for those looking to explore on foot.
The canyon gets narrower as it heads down hill (northward) w/ the single track route becoming a blanket of slick dark mud (in the wet months). Without trees on the worst section, making a self-rescue impossible.
Real 4 wheel drive is needed for this camp! All wheel drive vehciles (SUV & sportwagons) should not attempt this location without a tow strap or winch – AND another 4WD vehicle to help out. Yep, seriously. We know, because we had to rescue someone last time we were here.
Winter wet weather doesn’t need to put a damper on your outdoor exploring, if you can get your hands on a 4×4 vehicle. Almost any SUV or truck with 4 wheel drive is capable of driving through some snow or mud. Just how deep is the mud (underneath the snow) is usually the big question. Many National Forests and State Parks close certain dirt roads due to over-use, or to control soil erosion and prevent the deep muddy ruts which are costly to re-grade come springtime. Call ahead to the rangers to find which back road routes are indeed open, or bring your printed topo map and wing it.
The California destinations listed below are popular winter spots for off roading enthusiasts. Some places may be busier than others. The dirt roads surrounding these spots are real treasures, so try to plan an all-day loop trip if possible. Camping w/ a campfire permit is an option on many back roads. Plenty lodging in nearby small towns if winter camping is not your thing.
Tribal lands are mostly located in rural regions which always have plenty of dirt roads to explore. Get a good back roads map for the public lands nearby, parks, BLM, National Forest. If the overnight camping is dropping into the twenties or teens, then know the forecast. A good rule of thumb for California hotel stays: If the low temps overnight are below the cost of a hotel room at the nearby casino, the comfy lodge might be well worth considering.
@ California – Arizona border.
The Laughlin casino in the middle of nowhere, right on the Colorado River. Jet ski rentals, swimming pools and spas, restaurants, RV park. The historic Mojave Trail, aka Mojave Road, starts next to the property.
Gold Country Casino
@ Lake Oroville, California
Sierra Nevada mountains Northern California. Conveniently located near Feather River (all 4 forks) and Plumas National Forest, with Berry Creek and Bucks Lake Wilderness to explore. Snow often closes the highest elevations.
@ Pine Valley, East County San Diego
Great bouldered mountains with back road exploring, hiking, mountain biking trails, all easy access from Southern California. Get a Cleveland National Forest map and expect some road closures near Laguna Mountain Sunrise Highway, especially when it snows.
Diamond Mountain Casino
Susanville, Northern California
Located in between US Highway 395 and Mount Lassen, the scenic Susan River region has lots to offer for the outdoor enthusiasts. Plenty of roads to explore, some big lakes too. Many Forest roads could be closed due to snow, so be warned and call ahead to the ranger.
The whole Carson City area in Nevada has some excellent dirt roads to explore. Old mines, caves, many miles of pinyon forests. Lake Tahoe is nearby with luxury resorts, casinos and snow skiing.
If you just can’t stand the cold and snow, then warmer climates lie to the south. Baja California is a tourist/traveler and off-roader haven in the wintertime.
Jawbone Canyon for Thanksgiving weekend will get dirt bikes by the thousands and big families. Christmas is busy around the Palm Spring desert destinations – like Joshua Tree. Easter weekend is popular w/ wildflowers and campers in Anza Borrego Desert.
Occasionally, wide graded dirt roads lead to secondary routes, so overnighting it with a motorhome on the back roads is very possible (if deep mud is not present). RV camping is quite the tradition for Southern Californians. Desert off roaders in tow, all over the Mojave. Steer clear of busy family groups. Pick a lesser known area to camp and explore. Get your real topo maps out and choose easy access from pavement, but wide graded dirt roads are best. Plenty roads like this in the Eastern Sierra, on the east side of US Hwy 395. RV campers that follow Total Escape might very well be interested in testing the limits of their recreational vehicle, slowly.
Before AWD got marketed as 4WD, Total Escape was way out there exploring in a 2 wheel drive and posting it online for you. All wheel drive station wagons should stick to the paved and plowed roads. If you plan to do a lotta dirt road driving in the old Subaru, keep the rock crawling to a minimum. If not, you may want to invest in a skid plate for the oil pan. Nothing beats first hand experience and learning ahead of time how your car will behave before you loose control on icy dark steep roads. Go practice with the emergency break and get the vehicle in a wide open snow plowed area if possible, just avoid the temptations to get wild. Don’t get the doughnut urge and plant yourself in a tree. Remember, it’s not like the commercial showed us, those are closed roads they are filming on.
If you plan to be off roading in snow or mud at all you might want to consider some important safety items: tire chains for snow, a tow strap and tire plugs for flats. If you own a high clearance 2WD SUV, you could benefit from running chains on all four tires when snow is present. How deep the snow gets and how steep the hills are, determines how far you can go without a real 4 wheel drive. Some choose to rent a 4WD for the weekend road trip.
Carry these items when traveling in winter conditions:
tools, jumper cables, tow strap, emergency gear, first aid kit, real boots, extra clothes, blankets, flashlights, food, drinking water, cell phone, maps
Heart Bar to Big Bear Lake, San Bernardino National Forest
Big Bear Back Roads
Highway 38, East of Heart Bar @ 1N02
alt big bear
This 8 mile long forested, dirt road begins right off Hwy 38, just east of Heart Bar Campground and is an easy turn to miss. The unimproved route heads north through the National Forest, up and over and around SugarLoaf Mountain (elev 9952′), then down to the Big Bear Lake region. Several primitive sites – yellow post camp sites – can be found way back in here, but you might NOT be able to have a campfire (depending on fire restrictions). Check w/ local rangers before you head out.
Forest roads are often closed (gated) during the winter, when snow and rain make a muddy mess of the terrain. Rock slides are also common in wetter months. Call the local rangers to inquire on road conditions or if this route is open.
The whole Big Bear Mountain area is a SoCal favorite forest destination, for weekenders and travelers alike. Mountain biking, hiking, backpacking, horseback riding, camping and 4-wheeling. Plus the recreational lake is full of more water recreation w/ tourist shops and restaurants. Stay away from the crowds and take the back roads for adventure and recreation.
jeepers, gear-heads, wheelers, ‘froaders, dirt bikers, anything with a motor
Here at Total Escape we love driving on dirt back roads so much, DanaMite created a whole freaking web site about it! Whether you like to “wheel” your Jeep, truck, SUV, ATV, UTV, or an all-wheel- drive sportwagon – we have the California terrain covered. Detailing the dirt – from basic gravel roads and forest routes to High Sierra rock climbing routes; Trailheads, campsites, maps and much more. Mountains to deserts and everything in between.
This one is a huge deal in the Los Angeles area. 4×4 extremes – in every direction. Tons of offroad industry vendors, displays, demos, and custom rigs and hot chicks in skimpy shirts for your viewing pleasure. Drool over every suspension, roll cage and locker. Lucas Oils is the big sponsor and this event is held annually, Family Events off road expo, summertime, air conditioning, in gorgeous Pomona, CA
Rock Crawling has gained massive exposure in the two last decade with new suspensions, after market part for nicer rigs & of course, the main stream media. Red Bull, Skyjacker & other corporate sponsors have dug their hands into this new sport & the profits.
Crawlin’ is the off road hobby of wheelin’ well built rigs over the rocky terrain and obstacles, instead of around it. Sandstone walls, granite boulders of the High Sierra, hand made “rock gardens” in the Mojave, practice runs @ the local OHV parks.
Breaking things is the norm in this game. Expect this past time addiction to cost a bundle – on auto parts & on your free time. On the trail repairs are common, so go prepared w/ your tools, overnight gear & your crawling buddies (as back up).
From the adventure lands of Moab, Utah to the Mojave Desert of SoCal, rock crawling is not about speed, but all about the delicately chosen lines & slowness. The technique, the rigs & preferably no body damage. Just get rid of the body!
How slow can you go? How high can you handle?
Popular rock crawling areas around the Southwest U.S. –